Innovation in Growing Cities to Prevent Social Exclusion

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

As of 2007, the world became a majority urban place. The largest movements of people in human history are occurring right now, as vast populations relocate to urban and semi-urban areas in pursuit of a better quality of life, or because life has become intolerable where they currently live.

A new book launched during this year’s World Urban Forum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil highlights ways in which people across the South are shaping how their cities evolve, insisting that they will not accept social exclusion and demanding a “right to the city.”

“A lot of social initiatives based on the right to the city are coming from these ‘new cities of the South,’ said one of the book’s editors, Charlotte Mathivet of Habitat International Coalition in Santiago, Chile. “The book highlights original social initiatives: protests and organizing of the urban poor, such as the pavement dwellers’ movements in Mumbai, India where people with nothing, living on the pavements of a very big city, organize themselves to struggle for their collective rights, just as the park dwellers did in Osaka, Japan.”

This first edition of Cities for All: Proposals and Experiences towards the Right to the City, comes in three languages – English (http://www.hic-net.org/document.php?pid=3399) , Spanish ( http://www.hic-net.org/document.php?pid=3400) and Portuguese (http://www.hic-net.org/document.php?pid=3401) – is intended to inspire people to tackle positively this fast-changing urban world.

The book’s chapters span an eclectic mix of topics, from democracy in the world’s future cities to experiences in Africa’s cities, to how the 2008 Beijing Olympics affected the metropolis, to ways of involving children in urban planning.

One innovative case study included in the book is the children’s workshops in Santiago, Chile, which aim to make a more child-friendly city by including children in the planning process.

One example of the success of a child-friendly approach has been the work of the former mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, Enrique Peñalosa (http://www.pps.org/epenalosa-2/) . As mayor of the city of over 6.6 million people from 1998 to 2001, he put children to the fore in planning.

“In Bogotá, our goal was to make a city for all the children,” he told Yes! magazine. “The measure of a good city is one where a child on a tricycle or bicycle can safely go anywhere. If a city is good for children, it will be good for everybody else. Over the last 80 years we have been making cities much more for cars’ mobility than for children’s happiness.”

His term in office saw the establishment or refurbishing of 1,200 parks and playgrounds, the building of three large and 10 neighbourhood libraries and the opening of 100 nurseries for children under five. He also oversaw the creation of 300 kilometres of bike lanes, the largest such network in the developing world, created the world’s longest pedestrian street, at 17 kilometres, and turned land earmarked for an eight-lane highway into a 45 kilometre green belt path.

Cities for All’s publisher, Habitat International Coalition (HIC) (www.hic-net.org) , says it focuses on the link between “human habitat, human rights, and dignity, together with people’s demands, capabilities, and aspirations for freedom and solidarity.”

The group works towards the creation of a theoretical and practical framework for what it calls a “right to the city.”

The cities of Africa and Asia are growing by a million people a week. If current trends continue, megacities and sprawling slums will be the hallmarks of this majority urban world. Currently in sub-Saharan Africa, 72 percent of the population lives in slum conditions. And by 2015, there will be 332 million slum-dwellers in Africa, with slums growing at twice the speed of cities.

“The consequences have produced a deeper gap between the city and countryside and also within the city between the rich and poor,” said Mathivet.

“We must think of the right to the city as a lively alternative proposal,” Mathivet said, “a banner under which social movements, academics, and social organizations are struggling against the perverse effects of neo-liberalism in cities such as the privatization of land, public spaces and services, land speculation, gentrification, forced evictions, segregation, and exclusion.”

Resources

1) Model Village India: Drawing on self-organizing methods used in India since 1200 BC, the Model Village India is based around India’s democratic system of Panchayats: a village assembly of people stemming back to pre-colonial times. Website: www.modelvillageindia.org.in

2) More Urban, Less Poor: The first textbook to explore urban development and management and challenge the notion unplanned shanty towns without basic services are the inevitable consequence of urbanization. Website: www.earthscan.co.uk

3) Building and Social Housing Foundation: The Building and Social Housing Foundation (BSHF) is an independent research organisation that promotes sustainable development and innovation in housing through collaborative research and knowledge transfer. Website: http://www.bshf.org

4) World Social Forum Dakar, Senegal 2011. Website: www.worldsocialforum.info

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